Quote: Living Mathematics

Only-dead-mathematics

Only dead mathematics can be taught where competition prevails: living mathematics must always be a communal possession. —Mary Everest Boole

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from Mary Everest Boole. Background photo courtesy of State Library of Queensland, Australia (no known copyright) via Flickr.


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Get in the Math Car

Math-car

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from @Mr_Harris_Math, via Twitter. Background photo courtesy of Forrest Cavale (CC0 1.0) via Unsplash.


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Two Ways to Do Math

Two-Ways-to-Do-Math

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from Raoul Bott, via The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive. Background photo courtesy of Swedish National Heritage Board (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.


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Ruth Beechick on Teaching

[Feature photo above by Samuel Mann (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.]

Here’s one more quote from homeschooling guru Ruth Beechick. It applies to classroom teachers, too!

Everyone thinks it goes smoothly in everyone else’s house, and theirs is the only place that has problems.

I’ll let you in on a secret about teaching: there is no place in the world where it rolls along smoothly without problems. Only in articles and books can that happen.

you can

— Ruth Beechick
You Can Teach Your Chile Successfully (Grades 4-8)



Peter Pan Arithmetic Quiz

Teaching the Standard Algorithms

[Feature photo above by Samuel Mann, Analytical Engine photo below by Roͬͬ͠͠͡͠͠͠͠͠͠͠͠sͬͬ͠͠͠͠͠͠͠͠͠aͬͬ͠͠͠͠͠͠͠ Menkman, both (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.]

Babbage's Analytical Engine

An algorithm is a set of steps to follow that produce a certain result. Follow the rules carefully, and you will automatically get the correct answer. No thinking required — even a machine can do it.

This photo shows one section of the first true computer, Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Using a clever arrangement of gears, levers, and switches, the machine could crank out the answer to almost any arithmetic problem. Rather, it would have been able to do so, if Babbage had ever finished building the monster.

One of the biggest arguments surrounding the Common Core State Standards in math is when and how to teach the standard algorithms. But this argument is not new. It goes back at least to the late 19th century.

Here is a passage from a book that helped shape my teaching style, way back when I began homeschooling in the 1980s…

Ruth Beechick on Teaching Abstract Notation

Understanding this item is the key to choosing your strategy for the early years of arithmetic teaching. The question is: Should you teach abstract notation as early as the child can learn it, or should you use the time, instead, to teach in greater depth in the mental image mode?

Abstract notation includes writing out a column of numbers to add, and writing one number under another before subtracting it. The digits and signs used are symbols. The position of the numbers is an arbitrary decision of society. They are conventions that adult, abstract thinkers use as a kind of shorthand to speed up our thinking.

When we teach these to children, we must realize that we simply are introducing them to our abstract tools. We are not suddenly turning children into abstract thinkers. And the danger of starting too early and pushing this kind of work is that we will spend an inordinate amount of time with it. We will be teaching the importance of making straight columns, writing numbers in certain places, and other trivial matters. By calling them trivial, we don’t mean that they are unnecessary. But they are small matters compared to real arithmetic thinking.

If you stay with meaningful mental arithmetic longer, you will find that your child, if she is average, can do problems much more advanced than the level listed for her grade. You will find that she likes arithmetic more. And when she does get to abstractions, she will understand them better. She will not need two or three years of work in primary grades to learn how to write out something like a subtraction problem with two-digit numbers. She can learn that in a few moments of time, if you just wait.

— Ruth Beechick
An Easy Start in Arithmetic (Grades K-3)
(emphasis mine)


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Quotable: I Do Hate Sums

MrsLaTouche

I’ve been looking for quotes to put at the beginning of each chapter in my math games books. I found a delightful one by Mrs. LaTouche on the Mathematical Quotations Server, but when I looked up the original source, it was even better:

I am nearly driven wild with the Dorcas accounts, and by Mrs. Wakefield’s orders they are to be done now.

I do hate sums. There is no greater mistake than to call arithmetic an exact science. There are Permutations and Aberrations discernible to minds entirely noble like mine; subtle variations which ordinary accountants fail to discover; hidden laws of Number which it requires a mind like mine to perceive.

For instance, if you add a sum from the bottom up, and then again from the top down, the result is always different.

Again if you multiply a number by another number before you have had your tea, and then again after, the product will be different. It is also remarkable that the Post-tea product is more likely to agree with other people’s calculations than the Pre-tea result.

Try the experiment, and if you do not find it as I say, you are a mere sciolist*, a poor mechanical thinker, and not gifted as I am, with subtle perceptions.

Of course I find myself not appreciated as an accountant. Mrs. Wakefield made me give up the book to [my daughter] Rose and her governess (who are here), and was quite satisfied with the work of those inferior intellects.

— Maria Price La Touche
The Letters of A Noble Woman
London: George Allen & Sons, 1908

*sciolist: (archaic) A person who pretends to be knowledgeable and well informed. From late Latin sciolus (diminutive of Latin scius ‘knowing’, from scire ‘know’) + -ist.


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300_stars_in_orbit_1

Playing With Math — the Book

body_Book_cover_for_upload

Update: The crowdfunding campaign is now closed and the book is in the final stages. It should be headed to the printer soon. Check the Playing With Math homepage for publication and ordering information.


There are only a few days left to reserve your copy of Playing With Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and Passionate Teachers. I don’t have time to finish the review I hoped to write, so instead I’ll share some of my favorite quotes from the book:

What do mathematicians do? We play with math. What are little kids doing when they’re thinking about numbers, shapes, and patterns? They’re playing with math. You may not believe it yet, but you can have fun playing with math, too.

— Sue VanHattum, editor

We had a discussion at the end of the club on how we are all confused now, but pleasantly so, and how important it is to rejoice in confusion and to be comfortable with it. Adults often strive very hard to get rid of any and all possible traces of confusion for kids, making things dreadfully boring.

— Maria Droujkova, after a math circle exploration of infinity

All it talkes to do mathematics is opportunity, a frustrating problem, and a bit of stubbornness.

— Ellen Kaplan, math circle leader

Our own school experiences can make it hard for us to teach without being tempted to “help them master” a concept that they may or may not be ready to master. What we never learned in school was the concept of playing around with math, allowing ideas to “percolate,” so to speak, before mastery occurs, and that process may take time.

— Julie Brennan, homeschooler

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JoBoalerProportionalRelationships

Quotable: Math Connections

ConnectedGearsJoBoaler

It turns out that the people who do well in math are those who make connections and see math as a connected subject. The people who don’t do well are people who see math as a lot of isolated methods.

— Jo Boaler
Math Connections

If you or your children struggle with math, Boaler’s non-profit YouCubed.org may help you recover your joy in learning.


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Math Is Like Ice Cream

Math is like ice cream

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from my About page. Background courtesy of Pinstamatic.


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Quotable: Math as a Second Language

Wenninger 94photo by fdecomite via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

I sat in class 3 days ago and though to myself, “They need a class called ‘Math as a second language’ or MSL for short.”

It is easy to understand what a median is, or what attributes a kite has, or why is a rectangle a square but a square not a rectangle… for a minute or a day.

It is easy to temporarily memorize a fact. But without true understanding of the concept those “definitions” fade. If the foundation of truly understanding is not there to begin with then there is little hope for any true scaffolding and even less chance of any true learning.

Duncan
Comment on Christopher Danielson’s Geometry and language


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If This Feels Hard…

TheRightThing

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from Ben Orlin’s blog post Learning to rock-climb is changing how I’ll teach math. Background photo courtesy of Jason Kasper (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.


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Raising Independent Learners

My-long-term-goal

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from Lucinda Leo at Navigating by Joy. Background photo courtesy of Peter Werkman (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.


Tabletop Academy PressGet monthly math tips and activity ideas, and be the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions. Sign up for my Tabletop Academy Press Updates email list.


Quotable: Focus on Being Silent

Children Reading Pratham Books and Akshara[Photo by Pratham Books via flickr (CC BY 2.0).]

I discovered this gem in my blog reading today. One of the secrets of great teaching:

Audrey seemed, for once, at a loss for words. She was thinking about the question.

I try to stay focused on being silent after I ask young children questions, even semi-serious accidental ones. Unlike most adults, they actually take time to think about their answers and that often means waiting for a response, at least if you want an honest answer.

If you’re only looking for the “right” answer, it’s fairly easy to gently badger a child into it, but I’m not interested in doing that.

Thomas Hobson
Thank You For Teaching Me

Learn Math by Asking Questions

The best way for children to build mathematical fluency is through conversation. For more ideas on discussion-based math, check out these posts:

And be sure to follow Christopher Danielson’s Talking Math with Your Kids blog!


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One Right Way

One-Right-Way

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from Herb Gross, via Math as a Second Language. Background photo courtesy of kristos_b (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.


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The Mathematician and the Poet

Mathematician-and-Poet

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from William James, via the Furman University Mathematical Quotations Server. Background photo courtesy of Joe Maggie-Me (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.


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Teach Three Things

Teach-three-things

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from Hollis Easter, via Twitter. Background photo courtesy of Brenda Clarke (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.


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The Fun in Learning

Just-like-the-games

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from Erlina Ronda, The fun in learning mathematics is in the challenge. Background photo courtesy of USAG-Humphreys (CC BY 2.0) via flickr.


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A Good Problem Requires Dreaming Time

A-good-problem

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from Howard Eves, An Introduction to the History of Mathematics. Background photo courtesy of Brenda Clarke (CC BY 2.0) via flickr.


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The Point Is To Understand

Any-fool-can-know

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Background photo courtesy of Backgrounds Etc (CC BY 2,0) via flickr


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Youth Sports Baseball Camp

Quotable: Learning the Math Facts

feature photo above by USAG- Humphreys via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

During off-times, at a long stoplight or in grocery store line, when the kids are restless and ready to argue for the sake of argument, I invite them to play the numbers game.

“Can you tell me how to get to twelve?”

My five year old begins, “You could take two fives and add a two.”

“Take sixty and divide it into five parts,” my nearly-seven year old says.

“You could do two tens and then take away a five and a three,” my younger son adds.

Eventually we run out of options and they begin naming numbers. It’s a simple game that builds up computational fluency, flexible thinking and number sense. I never say, “Can you tell me the transitive properties of numbers?” However, they are understanding that they can play with numbers.

photo by Mike Baird via flickr

photo by Mike Baird via flickr

I didn’t learn the rules of baseball by filling out a packet on baseball facts. Nobody held out a flash card where, in isolation, I recited someone else’s definition of the Infield Fly Rule. I didn’t memorize the rules of balls, strikes, and how to get someone out through a catechism of recitation.

Instead, I played baseball.

John Spencer
Memorizing Math Facts

Conversational Math

The best way for children to build mathematical fluency is through conversation. For more ideas on discussion-based math, check out these posts:

Learning the Math Facts

For more help with learning and practicing the basic arithmetic facts, try these tips and math games:


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RIMG0186 Satellite dish

How To Master Quadratic Equations

G'Day Math logo

feature photo above by Junya Ogura via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A couple of weeks ago, James Tanton launched a wonderful resource: a free online course devoted to quadratic equations. (And he promises more topics to come.)

Kitten and I have been working through the lessons, and she loves it!

We’re skimming through pre-algebra in our regular lessons, but she has enjoyed playing around with simple algebra since she was in kindergarten. She has a strong track record of thinking her way through math problems, and earlier this year she invented her own method for solving systems of equations with two unknowns. I would guess her background is approximately equal to an above-average algebra 1 student near the end of the first semester.

After few lessons of Tanton’s course, she proved — within the limits of experimental error — that a catenary (the curve formed by a hanging chain) cannot be described by a quadratic equation. Last Friday, she easily solved the following equations:

\left ( x+4 \right )^2 -1=80

and:

w^2 + 90 = 22 w - 31

and (though it took a bit more thought):

4x^2 + 4x + 4 = 172

We’ve spent less than half an hour a day on the course, as a supplement to our AoPS Pre-Algebra textbook. We watch each video together, pausing occasionally so she can try her hand at an equation before listening to Tanton’s explanation. Then (usually the next day) she reads the lesson and does the exercises on her own. So far, she hasn’t needed the answers in the Companion Guide to Quadratics, but she did use the “Dots on a Circle” activity — and knowing that she has the answers available helps her feel more independent.

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Math Teachers at Play #62

by Robert Webb

Do you enjoy math? I hope so! If not, browsing this post just may change your mind. Welcome to the Math Teachers At Play blog carnival — a smorgasbord of ideas for learning, teaching, and playing around with math from preschool to pre-college.

Let the mathematical fun begin!

POLYHEDRON PUZZLE

By tradition, we start the carnival with a puzzle in honor of our 62nd edition:

An Archimedean solid is a polyhedron made of two or more types of regular polygons meeting in identical vertices. A rhombicosidodecahedron (see image above) has 62 sides: triangles, squares, and pentagons.

  • How many of each shape does it take to make a rhombicosidodecahedron?
Click for full-size template.

Click for template.

My math club students had fun with a Polyhedra Construction Kit. Here’s how to make your own:

  1. Collect a bunch of empty cereal boxes. Cut the boxes open to make big sheets of cardboard.
  2. Print out the template page (→) and laminate. Cut out each polygon shape, being sure to include the tabs on the sides.
  3. Turn your cardboard brown-side-up and trace around the templates, making several copies of each polygon. I recommend 20 each of the pentagon and hexagon, 40 each of the triangle and square.
  4. Draw the dark outline of each polygon with a ballpoint pen, pressing hard to score the cardboard so the tabs will bend easily.
  5. Cut out the shapes, being careful around the tabs.
  6. Use small rubber bands to connect the tabs. Each rubber band will hold two tabs together, forming one edge of a polyhedron.

So, for instance, it takes six squares and twelve rubber bands to make a cube. How many different polyhedra (plural of polyhedron) will you make?

  • Can you build a rhombicosidodecahedron?

And now, on to the main attraction: the 62 blog posts. Many of the following articles were submitted by their authors; others were drawn from the immense backlog in my blog reader. If you’d like to skip directly to your area of interest, here’s a quick Table of Contents:

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Quotable: The Adventure of Learning Math

Math mascot Moby Snoodles

As for mathematics itself, it’s one of the most adventurous endeavors a young child can experience. Mathematics is exotic, even bizarre. It is surprising and unpredictable. And it can be more exciting, scary and dangerous than sailing the high seas!

But most parents and educators don’t present math this way. They just want the children to develop their mathematical skills rather than going for something more nebulous, like the mathematical state of mind.

Children marvel as snowflakes magically become fractals, inviting explorations of infinity, symmetry and recursion. Cookies offer gameplay in combinatorics and calculus. Paint chips come in beautiful gradients, and floor tiles form tessellations. Bedtime routines turn into children’s first algorithms. Cooking, then mashing potatoes (and not the other way around!) humorously introduces commutative property. Noticing and exploring math becomes a lot more interesting, even addictive.

Unlike simplistic math that quickly becomes boring, these deep experiences remain fresh, because they grow together with children’s and parents’ understanding of mathematics.

— Maria Droujkova and Yelena McManaman
Adventurous Math For the Playground Set (Scientific American online)


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Quotable: Why Study Algebra?

Blocks

[Photo by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker via flickr.]

One reason to study algebra: because it’s a building block. And just as it was really hard at first to get those blocks to do what you wanted them to do, so also it can be really hard at first to get algebra to work. But if you persevere, who knows what you might build someday?

Algebra is the beginning of a journey that gives you the skills to solve more complex problems.

So, try not to think of Algebra as a boring list of rules and procedures to memorize. Consider algebra as a gateway to exploring the world around us all.

— Jason Gibson
Why Study Algebra?


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Central City Times Tables

Trouble with Times Tables

[feature photo above by dsb nola via flickr.]

Food for thought:

Imagine that you wanted your children to learn the names of all their cousins, aunts and uncles. But you never actually let them meet or play with them. You just showed them pictures of them, and told them to memorize their names.

Each day you’d have them recite the names, over and over again. You’d say, “OK, this is a picture of your great-aunt Beatrice. Her husband was your great-uncle Earnie. They had three children, your uncles Harpo, Zeppo, and Gummo. Harpo married your aunt Leonie … yadda, yadda, yadda.

— Brian Foley
Times Tables – The Worst Way to Teach Multiplication

On the other hand, if you want your children to develop relationships with the numbers, to learn the math facts naturally, then be sure to tell lots of math stories. And when you are ready to focus on multiplication, be sure to study the patterns and relationships within the times tables.


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Quotable: We’ve Been Blind

I finally got around to reading a bit of the backlog in my Google Reader. I love Malke’s blog!

I used to think that math was some kind of inaccessible, abstract magic trick, a sort of in-joke that excluded us common folk, but now I realize that math is completely not that at all. The reality of math as most of us know it is like that story where three men are standing in a dark room touching different parts of an elephant. None of them has the full picture because they’re only perceiving individual elements of the whole animal.

The reality, I’m discovering, is that math is just like that elephant: a large, expansive, three-dimensional, intelligent, sensitive, expressive creature.

The problem is that most of us have been standing around in that dark room since about kindergarten, grasping its tail, thinking “this is what math is and, personally, I don’t think it’s for me.” We’ve been blind to the larger, incredibly beautiful picture that would emerge if only we would turn on the lights and open our eyes.

Malke Rosenfeld
The Elephant in the Room


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Abstraction in Language and in Math

photo by Robert Couse-Baker via flickr creative commons

Check out Dan’s interesting semi-philosophical discussion of the meaning and importance of abstraction:

The physical five oranges goes up the ladder to the picture of the five oranges which goes up to the representation of the five oranges as a numeral.

This points in the direction of a definition of abstraction: when we abstract we voluntarily ignore details of a context, so that we can accomplish a goal.

Dan Meyer

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Quotable: The Art of Teaching

Most remarks made by children consist of correct ideas very badly expressed. A good teacher will be very wary of saying ‘No, that’s wrong.’ Rather, he will try to discover the correct idea behind the inadequate expression. This is one of the most important principles in the whole of the art of teaching.

W. W. Sawyer
Vision in Elementary Mathematics


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Quotable: Theory vs. Real Life

I had the most beautiful set of theories you ever knew when I started out as a schoolma’am, but every one of them has failed me at some pinch or another.

— Anne Shirley (fictional)
Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maude Montgomery


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